Sal Aguilar has been a part of baseball success as a player and an assistant coach. He was the starting third baseman for the Hammond (Ind.) Chiefs that went to the Babe Ruth Baseball World Series. The 1998 graduate of Griffith (Ind.) High School was on the coaching staff at Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., as the 59ers won IHSAA Class 3A state championships in 2018 and 2019 — two of eight state titles on Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur’s watch. Aguilar’s first year as an assistant at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind., was 2021 and the Wildcats finished as Class 3A state runners-up. Ryan Bridges let his team know that the 2022 season would be his last as Hanover Central head coach since he was taking a job at the school as assistant athletic director to Kelly Bermes. In June, Aguilar was hired to head the Wildcats baseball program. “We have great kids and great community support,” says Aguilar. “We’re excited to embark on this new chapter of Hanover Central baseball. We have a very bright future “We’re not going to shy away from the ultimate goal which is to win a state championship.” Hanover Central (enrollment around 775) is a member of the Greater South Shore Conference (with Hammond Bishop Noll, Boone Grove, Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, South Central of Union Mills, Wheeler and Whiting). The Wildcats were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Culver Military Academy, John Glenn, Kankakee Valley, Knox and River Forest. Hanover Central has won two sectional crowns — 2011 (2A) and 2021 (3A). Players from the Class of 2021 included outfielder Jared Comia (now at the University of Illinois), 6-foot-9 right-handed pitcher Peyton Olejnik (who went to Triton College in River Grove, Ill., and is heading to the University of Oklahoma in 2022-23), left-hander/infielder Bret Matthys (Purdue Northwest) and infielder Blaze Cano (who is transferring from PNW to Calumet of St. Joseph in Whiting). Three athletes in the Class of 2023 expected to play at the next level include shortstop/pitcher Zach Zykowski, pitcher Luka Zakman and two-sport standout Gannan Howes (who is getting attention in baseball and football). Aguilar came to Hanover Central as a teacher in 2020-2 and is entering his 16th year in the classroom. He taught seven years in Texas, three in Illinois and this will be his sixth in Indiana. He instructs HCHS freshmen in Integrated Chemistry and Physics (ICP). Born in Munster, Ind., Aguilar spent his first nine years in East Chicago, Ind. After fourth grade, he moved to Griffith and attended St. Mary School then went to Griffith High School for four years. He earned three baseball letters for the Todd Iwema-coached Panthers. Aguilar played for the Hammond Seminoles in 1997 then for Dave Sutkowski’s Hammond Chiefs in 1998 and 1999. “The kids call him Bush,” says Aguilar of Sutkowski. “I learned a lot from Dave as a young kid about building relationships with players.” One way to do that at Hanover Central is through junior high baseball program. Thirty players in grades 6-8 play and practice in the fall. “That’s a huge asset for our program,” says Aguilar. “It’s all hands on deck here so varsity coaches are going to run that team. We’re going to be able install and implement our brands of offense and defense. “We get to cultivate those lifelong relationships with those kids at a very young age.” Aguilar’s coaching staff includes four Hanover Central graduates — Nic Sampognaro (Class of 2011) with the varsity, twins Sam Momcilovic (Class of 2019) and Evan Momcilovic (2019) with the junior varsity and Mike Biegel (Class of 2018) as freshman head coach. Former Hammond Bishop Noll and Merrillville head coach Paul Wirtz lends his experience to the varsity staff. Jesse Forrester (Lowell Class of 2019) is a freshman assistant. Aguilar finished his college degree at the University of Houston-Clear Lake in 2006. His teaching and coaching career began shortly after that. He came back to Indiana and married Griffith alum Brittany Clark in 2016. Sal and Brittany Aguilar have two children — Luis (5) and Gianna (2). “(Brittany) knows it’s not easy being a coach’s wife,” says Sal. “We’re lucky to have family around to help us out.”
Grant Sailors grew up playing baseball a certain way and he is looking to bring those things into his job as head coach at Elwood (Ind.) Community Junior/Senior High School. Hired less than a month ago to lead the Panthers program, the former three-sport athlete at Wabash (Ind.) High School wants the Panthers to “get back to basics.” “It’s the little stuff,” says Sailors, who played football and basketball and was a first-team all-stater in baseball (Matt Stone was head coach) for the Apaches and graduated in 2014 with a brief baseball stint at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. “To me a big thing is how you appear to your coaches, the other team, your fans. “Your jersey is tucked in. Your belt is on. You’re wearing your hat right. It’s little baseball traditions people may not take seriously. “We want to respect the game of baseball. The program I grew up in taught me very well. We want to teach that to the kids in Elwood. “It is a rebuilding process. It is going to take a little time and a whole lot of effort.” Elwood (enrollment around 430) is a member of the Central Indiana Athletic Conference (with Alexandra-Monroe, Blackford, Eastbrook, Frankton, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill). The Panthers were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Alexandria-Monroe, Frankton, Lapel, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris, Wapahani and Winchester Community. Elwood has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2014. Sailors, who helped with Wabash boys basketball a few years ago and Elwood softball in the spring of 2022, has been running twice-a-week open fields for Panthers baseball. He also emphasizes being on-time and the hustle factor. “Go out there and give it your all,” says Sailors, who has played with the USA Softball national fastpitch team. “It doesn’t take talent to hustle. These are things that I grew up doing.” Sailors played from age 4 to 12 at Wabash Little League then spent the next few years in the town’s Babe Ruth program. “There was a certain standard for baseball in the town of Wabash,” says Sailors. “Everybody wanted to be a part of the baseball team. “One goal for me and our new athletic director (Ryan Vanskyock) is it to get (Elwood’s Harry Bridges) Little League built back up so kids want to come and play.” That includes coaches clinics so they can see how Sailors teaches the game. Elwood has a junior high baseball for seventh and eighth graders. Sailors has named four of his assistant coaches — Jamie Jetty, Jack Bennett, Devan Frank and Chris Noone. Bennett, who played baseball at Goshen (Ind.) College), and long-time coach Noone are from Elwood. Former prep volleyball, basketball and softball athlete Taylor Noone (Elwood Class of 2016) is Sailors’ girlfriend. The Panthers play and practice on-campus. Money is being raised for renovations. Sailors says it is hoped that Elwood will someday have lights for baseball and softball. When not coaching, Sailors works in kitchen modeling and does woodworking on the side. He is the son of Jason (Kerri) Sailors and Betina Hill. He has three siblings — older younger Zach Sailors (Wabash Class of 2010), younger sister Jillian Sailors (Wabash Class of 2025) and younger brother Jake Sailors. Zach played baseball at Wabash and for four years at Indiana Tech. Jillian has been a travel volleyball player. Jake has been involved in football, basketball and baseball.
Josh Cooper may have been appointed as head coach one week before the start of the 2022 New Castle (Ind.) High School baseball season, but he was already quite familiar with the players. With the help of Rodney Scott, Cooper had coached or coached against many of the Trojans since they were 7 and saw them having success coming up through the ranks. Eli Cooper, who is 18 and Josh’s son, is one of New Castle’s seniors. “I know them very, very well,” says Josh Cooper of the Trojans. “It’s easy to read them. I always try to be honest and upfront with them.” Cooper tells his players about the importance of being a good teammate. A player’s performance or game situation should not dictate that. The players are very close. Each day after practice or a game, they spend more time together at a team members’ house or at a restaurant. So when circumstances had the Trojans looking for someone to lead the program, 1998 New Castle graduate Cooper was encouraged to apply for the job. That was mid-March. Flash forward to the present and the Trojans are in the semistate for the second time and first since 1996 (Josh Cooper was a sophomore on that team). Uncle Dennis Bolden was on the first semistate team in 1970 and later played in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Cut from basketball in the seventh grade, Josh focused on baseball and played high school ball for New Castle alum Gary Brown. “He was a pretty hard-nosed coach and a good guy,” says Cooper of Brown. On Saturday, June 11, New Castle (18-5-1) takes on No. 1-ranked Andrean (29-4) in the IHSAA Class 3A Kokomo Semistate (following the 1 p.m. 2A game). New Castle will be out to win its first semistate crown. New Castle (enrollment around 900) is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown). In winning the 2022 Yorktown Sectional, New Castle topped Hamilton Heights 4-3, Jay County 6-2 and Guerin Catholic 3-2. To prevail at the Oak Hill Regional, the Trojans bested Wawasee 9-0 (Indiana University commit Aydan Decker-Petty pitched a 16-strikeout one-hitter) and held off Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger 5-4 (behind the pitching of Eli Cooper and Corbin Malott). Dwenger scored all its runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. “I put a lot of emphasis on pitching to contact and defense,” says Cooper. “But we also spend a lot of time working in hitting.” Leading the offense is seniors Malott (.405 average, three home runs, 20 runs batted in, 18 stolen bases), Garrett Rusch (.324, 3 HR, 24 RBI), Bryce Jenkins (.296), Eli Cooper (.276, 3 HR, 23 RBI), Decker-Petty .262) and Jake Barber (.259, 22 RBI) and junior Max Upchurch (.239). On the mound, the Trojans are guided by right-handers Decker-Petty 4-1, 2.64 earned run average, 91 strikeouts, 22 walks in 53 innings), Eli Cooper (5-1, 4.32, 66 K’s, 27 walks, 47 IP), senior Trighton Cummings 4-1, 5.32, 20 K’s, 17 walks, 25 IP) and Malott (2-2, 0.98, 34 K’s, 12 walks, 21 IP). Josh Cooper says Decker-Petty has fastball that has touched 91 mph while Eli Cooper has gotten up to 88. Malott is committed to Purdue University, Eli Cooper and Jenkins to Clark State College (Springfield, Ohio) and Rusch to Allen Community College (Iola, Kan.). Nic Besecker (Class of 2020) was with Allen Community College in 2021 and Drew Barber (2019) was at Indiana University-Kokomo. The brother of Jake Barber intends to transfer to Indiana University South Bend. Coaching New Castle’s pitchers is alum Trey Ball, who was the seventh overall selection in the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Boston Red Sox. The 6-foot-5 lefty pitcher/batter had committed to the University of Texas before going pro. “Trey Ball has been so great,” says Cooper. “He brings a lot of great information.” Scott, Tyler Smith, Zak Kellogg are also New Castle assistants. Scott digs in on analytics and scouting. “He did a great job against Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger,” says Cooper. A Parks and Recreation employee for the City of New Castle, Josh Cooper had established a junior high program last winter (there were 22 seventh graders and 16 eighth graders playing this spring) and was working hard to turn Denny Bolden Field — named for his grandfather who coached Babe Ruth ball in town for 50 years — into the home for junior varsity and junior high baseball when he was called to his current baseball post, turning his attention to the high school facility — revamped Collin McAtee Memorial Field (formerly Sunnyside Field). Fencing, dugouts and scoreboard are all new. Turf Dawgs put down a bluegrass hybrid. “I’m very thankful and the city is thankful for it,” says Cooper. Because of the wet weather in the spring and the renovation project in progress, New Castle played just five games on their home field in 2022. Practices were held at Denny Bolden Field and “home” games were contested near Middletown, Ind., at Shenandoah High School, which is 15 miles from New Castle High. The Raiders are coached by Ryan Painter. “They were unbelievable about helping us,” says Cooper. “Coach Painter was so gracious.” As a thank you, Cooper is helping Painter with a field project at Shenandoah.
Ray Dix III is using baseball and education to help youngsters in northwest Indiana. A 2001 Merrillville High School graduate and former East Chicago American Legion Post 369 player, Dix guides to diamond programs for the Region Legion Expos (E.C. Post 369/Lake Station Post 100) and Calumet New Tech High School in Gary. “Post 369 is near and dear to my heart,” says Dix. “Bob Castillo, (father) Alonzo Olvera and (son) Juan Olvera kept it going for a long time.” Dix expresses his gratitude to the late Joe Kusiak. “My organization does not exist without Joe,” says Dix of the man who died in 2019. “He made it his personal mission to make sure some inner city kids got the same opportunities as suburban kids.” The Region Legion Expos are a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization. Each player is charged $200, but can sell $1 raffle tickets throughout the season to off-set the cost. “We don’t turn kids away because of money,” says Dix. “I accept anything they come up with.” Dix notes that there was an Chamber of Commerce event with Gary native and former big leaguer and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer LaTroy Hawkins. Initiatives by the Gary SouthShore RailCats, Home Field Advantage and MLB’s Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities (RBI) were gaining traction before the pandemic. The Region Legion Expos are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Each player is charged $200, but can sell $1 raffle tickets throughout the season to off-set the cost. “We don’t turn kids away because of money,” says Dix. “I accept anything they come up with.” The 2021 season marks the fifth for the Region Legion Expos and there are senior (19U) and junior (17U) squads. While recent rains have taken games away, both teams scheduled around 20 regular-season games. Most senior games have been played at the Kenny Lofton Baseball Complex in East Chicago with junior games at the former Lake Station Little League. In the future, Dix expects that the Region Legion Expos will play home games at Calumet New Tech (the field was built on the campus just a few years ago) and renovated E.J. Block Stadium in East Chicago. Tim Stoddard played for Post 369 and East Chicago Washington High School (later consolidated into East Chicago Central) at Block on his way to the majors. RLE are in the Michiana League along with Bristol Post 143, Highland Post 80, South Bend Post 151 and Valparaiso Post 94 in Indiana, Stevensville Post 568 and Three Oaks Post 204 in Michigan and Palos Park Post 1993 in Illinois. “We hope to grow the league,” says Dix, who is assisted by East Chicago Central High School head coach Jimmy Flores. “We stay away from days that Babe Ruth games are scheduled to give kids more chances to play baseball.” The plan is for league coaches to meet this fall to map out an even larger schedule for next season. “We hope to get more Legion teams,” says Dix. “We’re growing every year. We have more junior teams. “When I played 20 years ago almost everybody had a Legion team. It’s great competition. We don’t see a bad team all summer. Nobody’s bad. That’s what I love about it.” The 2021 junior sectional (Post 369/100 Region Legion Expos, Post 100 Region Riptide, South Bend Post 151, South Haven Post 502 Blaze and Valparaiso Post 94) is scheduled for July 8-11 at Hobart. The senior sectional (Post 369/100 Region Legion Expos, Highland Post 80, South Haven Post 502 Blaze and Valparaiso Post 94) is slated for July 15-18 at Highland. While the COVID-19 pandemic took away what was going to be Dix’s first season at Calumet in the spring of 2020, the Legion team had an abbreviated season without a state tournament last summer. “We were wiping down everything,” says Dix. “We had no (COVID) cases.” The ’21 Calumet New Tech Warriors had 15 players on the roster. Dix was assisted by former Gary Roosevelt and Bowman Academy head coach Kevin Bradley (who had Dix as an assistant at Bowman) plus Daniel Wendrickx and scorekeeper Steve Heck. This week after the Region Legion Expos played Palos Heights the two sides went through an actual handshake line — something not allowed during the high school season in the spring though teams tipped their caps at the end of games. “I didn’t know how much I missed the handshake line,” says Dix. “We show each other respect for what you just went through. “Even at the MLB level, guys shake hands with (their teammates).” The Region Legion Expos have sent Gary West graduates Antonio Reed (Clark Atlanta University) and Zamare Vincent (Calumet College of Saint Joseph), Merrillville alums Thomas Butler (Ancilla College and University of Indianapolis), Darius Kendall (Purdue University Northwest) and Thomas Smith (Bethel University) and Portage grads Shayne Devine (Trine University) and Kody McGuire (Goshen College) on to college baseball while Christian Ayala (Hammond Bishop Noll) and Dylan Coty (Merrillville baseball and basketball) have received offers. “I’ve been very fortunate to have some talented players,” says Dix, who has watched others stay out of trouble, go on to trade schools and become productive citizens. Dix, son of former Gary and current Fort Wayne minister Ray Dix Jr., and retired secretary Jewel Cody and grandson of former steelworker and court bailiff Ray Dix Sr., makes sure players are making their grades and get SAT preparation assistance. He is three semesters from his education degree, which he will likely complete at Purdue University Northwest. “If I get to teach high school and coach baseball I will not work for the rest of my life,” says Dix. “I will be walking in my purpose and be forever grateful.” Dix says area youth coaches and organizers at all levels try to stick to together for the good of the kids. “The goal to always have a safe space,” says Dix. “We all see the writing on the wall. “We don’t want to see it die.” It’s people like Bentley Ellis at Glenn Park Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken in Gary and Tracy Brough, president of Calumet Region Little League, which in 2021 included Duneland Park, Lake Station and Roosevelt Park and had about 150 players at all ages. Bradley, Ellis and Brough are on the CRLL board. “We’re a feeder group for American Legion ball,” says Brough. “Players age out of Little League (4 to 16) and can keep playing.” During the offseason, a group called the Gary United Baseball Collaborative was formed to meet in the offseason and discuss options for area youth. “We see how can we increase the opportunities for kids with their skill levels, training and experiences,” says Brough. “We cross-post (on social media) and communicate in the offseason so (players and their families) know what’s going on.” At Merrillville High, Dix played two seasons for Fenton Macke and two for Zac Wells. “Other than with Coach Castillo, I have not learned more on the mental side of baseball than I did in the few conversations I had with Coach Macke,” says Dix. “He had an amazing way of getting young people to think the game. This is how you stay in the lineup. “That is what you want once you get to the high school level and beyond. You find your niche and work it and that trickles to life. That stuck with me as a 14-year-old kid.” Dix admires Macke and current Washington Township head baseball coach Randy Roberts — men who know what its like to each at the middle school level and coach high schoolers. “If you have them from sixth grade on, they already know what you want (in high school),” says Dix, who plans add a middle school baseball at Calumet in the fall. “They know the style. “Everything is about relationship-building.” Wells, who also coached Ray’s little brother Rahdric Dix (Merrillville Class of 2007 who went on to play at Butler University and the University of Southern Indiana), was a three-sport start for the Pirates who had the ability to break down the intricacies of an athletic task. “Absolute tactician,” says Dix of Wells. “He had that Innate ability to show you the technical part of the game. “I use his hitting methods to this day.” Rahdric was Ray III’s first trainee and he’s had many since. Dix indicates that he would like to eventually be able to direct a program that includes players as young as 8. “It’s about being able to create uniformity and consistency,” says Dix.
“1932 was such a fascinating year,” says Wolf. “It was a pretty pivotal year in American history.”
On the diamond, there was Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of the powerful Yankees, Philadephia Athletics slugger Jimmie Foxx belting 58 home runs and a tight pennant race in the National League.
The 1932 World Series was Ruth’s last. That year was also the final time he hit 40 or more home runs and or drove in 130 or more runs in a season.
The Babe had a rather un-Ruthian 1925 campaign, hitting .290 with 25 home runs and 67 runs batted in over 98 games.
“People were writing him off, saying he was past his prime,” says Wolf. “But he had a lot of gas left in the tank.”
From 1926 through 1932, Ruth hit .353 with 343 homers and drove in 1,070 runs. In 1927, his slash line was .356/60/165.
The Cubs ended up taking the NL flag even though manager Rogers Hornsby was fired after 99 games and replaced by Charlie Grimm. Hornsby was at the end of his playing days and had many legal problems, some related to his gambling habits.
“The Rajah,” who hit .358 from 1915-37 with three .400 seasons (.401 in 1922, .424 in 1924 and .403 in 1925), was known to be a prickly character.
“He did not get along well with other players, managers or management,” says Wolf of Hornsby, who was not voted a World Series share by the ’32 Cubs.
Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges was shot by his girlfriend/showgirl Violet Popovich at the Hotel Carlos on Sheffield Avenue near Wrigley and recovered in time to help Chicago down the stretch.
Wolf weaves these and other details together in “The Called Shot.”
“It was fascinating to research the ’32 season and challenging to put all the stories together for the book,” says Wolf. “I wanted to tie in the world outside of baseball since 1932 was such an important year in the nation’s history — again, the research was eye-opening for me, and I learned a lot.
“I suppose that’s true for everyone who writes non-fiction — the research exposes us to facts and characters and perceptions about events that we only vaguely knew — in my case, for example, the history of the Bonus Army.”
Wolf enjoyed studying what it was like for ballplayers in the 1930’s. They spent many hours on trains, playing cards and talking baseball. Old players mentored new ones.
In that era, there were eight teams in each league with St. Louis being the farthest point west or south. Likely for monetary reasons, road trips would take weeks. For instance, the Cubs might play games in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn, Boston and Cincinnati before coming back to Chicago.
As the Yankees travel from New York to Chicago during the World Series, they made a stop in Elkhart, Ind., to change engines.
“Fifty youngsters charged onto the train and searched for ballplayers,” wrote Wolf in “The Called Shot.” “They found Babe Ruth and mobbed him. Ruth and other players signed autographs for their young fans, and then the youths were shooed from the train.”
The routine and relationships between the press and the ballplayers were different in those days.
Wolf notes that today’s athletes will talk to reporters after a game and then tend to their social media accounts — Instagram, Twitter etc.
“Every player is his own brand,” says Wolf. “They’re in their own world with their own followers.”
Wolf says he first began taking notes for what would become “The Called Shot” around 2000, began the writing process around 2013.
He began talking to literary agent Stacey Glick in 2007, began working on a book proposal after that and got contract with the University of Nebraska Press around 2013. He turned the manuscript over to UNP early in 2019 then did the bibliography and end notes.
“It was about a six-year process,” says Wolf.
The book came out during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was not easy with book stores being closed, book festivals being canceled and newspapers doing less reviews on baseball books.
Born in Bloomington, Ind., in 1947, Thomas Wolf is the son of Irvin and Jeanette “Jan” Wolf, who met at Indiana University. Irvin was born and raised in Wabash, Ind., attended Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., and then got a doctorate in psychology at IU.
Irvin Wolf was a college professor. He was at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill when Thomas was 1 to 7. From second grade through high school, his father taught at Denison University in Granville, Ohio.
Irvin’s brother, Jack, attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and lived most of his life after college in New York City.
Eugene “Gene” Wolf, grandfather of Thomas and father to Irvin and Jack, moved to Wabash from Germany and was a partner in the Beitman & Wolf department store and married to Rachel Simon Wolf. The Cubs began broadcasting their games on the radio and Gene Wolf became a big fan. He would travel to see games in Chicago.
The ’32 Series was aired by the Mutual Broadcasting System, CBS and NBC.
Thomas Wolf has a bachelor’s degree from Knox College Galesburg, Ill., and a master’s in Fiction Writing from the University of Iowa.
Wolf taught at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, UNC Chapel Hill and Santa Clara (Calif.) University and was a testing specialist and writing consultant before focusing on writing projects.
Patricia Bryan, Wolf’s wife, is a professor at the UNC School of Law and has been teaching at the university since 1982. She was a visiting professor at her alma mater — the University of Iowa — when she and her husband toured the prison grounds at Anamosa.
Wolf has produced several articles (many in conjunction with Bryan), including “The Warden Takes a Murderer to the World Series: A Tale of Depression-era Compassion,” “On the Brink: Babe Ruth in Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day,” “The Golden Era of Prison Baseball and the Revenge of Casey Coburn” and “Jack Kerouac and Fantasy Baseball.”
There are plans to write another true crime book set in Iowa.
Thomas Wolf and Patricia Bryan have three sons — John and twins David and Mike. John Wolf (29) is a dog trainer living in North Carolina. David Wolf (27) works in the public relations department for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mike Wolf (27) is an assistant men’s basketball coach at Purdue-Fort Wayne.
Freedman, a newspaperman for 50 years living in Columbus, Ind., serving as sports editor of the Seymour (Ind.) Tribune, has authored or co-authored about 110 books in the past three decades — about 60 on sports with two-thirds of them being on baseball.
He lived the Phillies story as a Philadelphia Inquirer staffer in 1980 assigned to write the sidebar on World Series MVP and future Hall of Famer Schmidt. The journalist was able to draw from what he witnessed at the time plus research. Philadelphia topped the Kansas City Royals in six games as Schmidt hit .381 (8-of-21) with two home runs, seven runs batted in and six runs score.
The seed that grew into the Cy Young book was decades in the making.
“I had it in my head for years and years and years — almost 30 years,” says Freedman. “I was getting more and more interested in baseball history.”
Even though he was serving as sports editor at the Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News at the time, Freedman made a trip to the research library at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., and gathered information on the man with 511 career pitching victories — far more than anyone in big league annals and wrote a column about Denton True Young — first known as Cyclone for clobbering a wooden fence with his pitches and then Cy.
“Nobody will ever come close,” says Freedman of durable right-hander Young’s win total. “There have been some Cy Young books, but not a lot.
“This is the first time in 20 years there’s been a new look at Cy Young.”
“(Cy Young is an) old story, but he never gets old,” says Freedman. “I wanted to get Cy Young’s voice as much as possible and get into what kind of guy he was.
“He was not a controversial guy. He did not get into trouble. He didn’t keep late hours. He didn’t party.”
Except for his time on a baseball field, Young spent his time as a farmer in northeast Ohio.
Since Young’s 22-year-old career spans from 1890 to 1911, finding the pitcher’s voice was not easy.
“When Cy Young was playing sportswriters did not go to the locker room right after the game and get quotes,” says Freedman. The scribes were focused on getting play-by-play details into their stories and then meeting deadlines and often racing for the train station for the team’s next game. “Contemporaneous reports are missing.”
Luckily for Freedman and other baseball researchers, Young lived to be 88 and shared his thoughts freely for decades after the end of his career.
“His brains were picked about his highlights,” says Freedman. “That stuff was golden material for a guy like me.”
Young spent much of his Hall of Fame career with two primary catchers — Chief Zimmer and Lou Criger. The latter is an Elkhart, Ind., native who was with Young in Cleveland, St. Louis and Boston from 1896 to 1908.
The Cy Young Award was first presented to the top pitcher in Major League Baseball in 1956 in honor of a man who not only won 94 more games than the second man on the list (Hall of Famer Walter Johnson), but tossed an astounding 7,356 innings with 29,565 batters faced and 749 complete games. Both the American and National leagues have handed out the Cy Young Award since 1967.
“I love baseball history,” says Freedman. “I learn something all the time when I do the research.
“I was very happy when I held the Cy Young book in my hand.”
Freedman’s newspaper career started when he was in high school in the Boston suburb of Newton, Mass.
He was with the Inquirer when an Alaskan vacation turned into 17 years as a sports editor there. He later was on the staff at the Chicago Tribune and Florida Times-Union and was sports editor at The Republic in Columbus, Ind. He has won more than 250 journalism awards.
Along the way, Freedman kept researching and writing books. There are many related to Alaska, even one that ties baseball to the remote 49th state.
“As long as I can come up with a great topic in my mind and (a book publisher) also thinks it’s a good idea,” says Freedman.
When his books come out is not entirely up to Freedman. Done and awaiting editor’s approval is a something tentatively called “1930: When Everybody Was Babe Ruth.”
To Freedman, 1930 was the “Year of the Hitter” the way 1968 is referred to as the “Year of the Pitcher.”
“Hitting went crazy and pitching was atrocious,” says Freedman. “That year the seams were raised on the ball. Pitchers could not control it. (Hitters) had the years of their lives.
“After that, they changed the rules so it didn’t happen again.”
Lefty-swinging outfielder George “Showboat” Fisher played four major league seasons — hitting .261 in 1923, .220 in 1924 and .182 in 1931. His 1930 mark was .374 as a reserve for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Fisher lived to 95.
“He got to talk about (the 1930 season) for the rest of his life,” says Freedman, who notes that ’30 was the year of the National League’s last .400 hitter (Hall of Fame first baseman Bill Terry of the New York Giants at .401).
All eight position players in the St. Louis Cardinals regular starting lineup hit .300, including outfielder George Watkins at .373.
It was hoped that the Phillies book would come out as part of a 40th-year anniversary and a celebration was planned during spring training in Clearwater, Fla.
Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic and that changed everything about 2020.
On March 16, Freedman was on his way home from a western trip to cover rodeo (he once spent three months in Wyoming researching a book on rodeo). He literally had businesses shutting down behind him as he drove back toward southern Indiana.
One day he ate in a restaurant, the next day they were putting chairs on top of tables at a truck stop.
More recently, Freedman has been able to cover high school football for his paper and has been contemplating his next baseball book project.
First baseman Johnny Mize was a star for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants and New York Yankees in the late 1930’s through early 1950’s.
“He’s been under-covered,” says Freedman of the Hall of Fame.
“We go over time period and see how baseball is interwoven,” says Scott. “Some students may have a general knowledge, but don’t know history.
“We see what baseball has brought to the history of the United States.”
Using the Ken Burns’ “Baseball” series — now streaming free online by PBS during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has schools doing eLearning rather than in-person classes — Scott leads a semester-long project-based elective course.
Right now, his students are on “Inning 4 — A National Heirloom (1920-1930).”
Using MySimpleShow, pupils will create short videos about one of the World Series during the period when the “U.S. was coming out of World War I and getting back on its feet.”
“I’m bummed,” says Scott. “Not being able to play this year kind of breaks my heart.”
With three seniors and nine juniors back from a 2019 team that went 2019, the Gophers were looking to “do some damage” in 2020.
Curtis grew up in Wyoming, but rooted for the New York Yankees since his grandfather — Edwin Curtis — had been offered a chance to play in their system as well as that of the St. Louis Cardinals back in the 1930’s. When the expansion Colorado Rockies came along, Robert Curtis — Shawn’s father — purchased season tickets.
“I’m a huge baseball fan,” says Curtis. “(Baseball) is really the history of America.
“Baseball is the constant theme of things. I will find ways to tie baseball in.”
Curtis, who also used the Ken Burns documentary to frame some of his teaching, says that as cities grew, people needed recreation and baseball parks offered an escape.
“We see how baseball plays into World War II,” says Curtis. “We see how baseball plays into the Spanish Flu (1918 Pandemic).”
Over the years, Curtis has taken students to Anderson, Ind., to meet Carl Erskine, a Brooklyn Dodgers teammate of Jackie Robinson and a baseball ambassador.
Independent of his teaching, Curtis has been working with the Negro League Baseball Museum — where Bob Kendrick is the president — and highlighting the history of black baseball in Indianapolis.
The best ballplayer of all-time?
“It’s definitely (Negro Leaguer) Josh Gibson,” says Curtis, who notes that old Bush Stadium in Indianapolis was site of a Negro League World Series game featuring Baseball Hall of Famer Gibson and the Homestead Grays in 1943.
This summer, the Curtis family is planning a visit to Fenway Park in Boston.
The Curtis family has also spent vacations going to historic baseball sites, including League Park in Cleveland, the former site of the Polo Grounds in New York and the boyhood home of Mickey Mantle in Oklahoma (Mantle is the favorite player of Robert Curtis) and many graves.
Teams play a home-and-home within their division then a crossover game with the corresponding regular-season placer in the other division.
BC is in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, West Lafayette and Western. Benton Central has won 25 sectionals — the last in 2009.
The Bison roam on-campus at Darrell Snodgrass Field, a facility that recently received new fencing and upgraded dugouts and sound system. The worked on the diamond in the fall, doing things like edging.
With all that breeze, Vernon says it is best to be conservative field conditioner in the like in the autumn.
“You put too much stuff down in the fall, it won’t be there in the spring,” says Vernon.
Vernon’s 2019 assistants include Denny Musser and pitching coach Brad Goffinet with the varsity and Tyler Marsh with the junior varsity. Musser, the uncle of former Benton Central and professional left-hander Neal Musser, was a JV coach at BC on the staff of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary DeHaven.
Neal Musser pitched 18 games for the 2007 and 2008 Kansas City Royals.
The southpaw was selected in the second round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets.
Goffinet pitched at Indianapolis Marshall High School and Butler University in the 1970’s. Marsh is a former North Newton High School assistant.
Right-hander Jayson Best graduated from Benton Central in 1985 and played at Milligan College in Elizabethtown, Tenn., before signing with the Minnesota Twins in 1989. He reached the Double-A level in 1992 and 1993 and hurled for the independent Lafayette (Ind.) Leopards in 1996 and 1997. He was pitching at Goshen College 2000-04 (one season for Todd Bacon and four for Brent Hoober) and Maple Leafs head coach in 2005.
Benton Central baseball is largely fed by travel baseball organizations, including the Lafayette Lightning and Indiana Nitro. In the past, teams have played Pony League and Babe Ruth.
Turner’s Berries lost 6-2 to Evansville Memorial in the 1989 IHSAA state championship game. Vernon was his left fielder and lead-off hitter. It was the first of Logan’s three straight Final Four appearances. The Berries 7-3 in the state semifinals to eventual champion LaPorte in 1990 and beat Marion for the state title in 1991.
What was it like to play for Turner Sr.?
“It was a great experience,” says Vernon. “He knows more about baseball is his little pinky than I do in my whole body.”
Turner Sr., who was assisted for many years by Larry “Butch” Jones and Rich Wild, established a winning culture and a program.
“You didn’t want to let coach down,” says Vernon. “He trusted his players. A lot of people revere him.”
As a coach, Vernon learned from Turner Sr. that “you always have to play the best players” and it doesn’t matter what they’re family name is what grade they’re in.
“Sometimes that makes people happy and sometimes it doesn’t,” says Vernon. “If you want to win, that’s what you have to do. Sometimes you have to make those tough decisions.”
After a season of club baseball at the University of Kentucky, Vernon went on to get a bachelor’s degree from Huntington University and master’s degree from Ball State University. He was head baseball coach at Delphi (Ind.) High School from 1994-2000 and assisted Jim Turner Jr. at Logansport for one season in the mid-2000’s and ran Turner’s summer programs.
He picked up pointers on organization and running practice from Turner Jr. Vernon was also head volleyball coach for the Berries.
After a brief stint in Florida, he came back to Indiana. He teaches business and computer classes at Benton Central has been BC’s head volleyball coach for three seasons.
Jon and Diann Vernon have been married for 25 years. They have four children — Matthew, Luke, Kailey and Karlee. Matthew works in finance for Amazon and lives in South Carolina. Luke is a dental student at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Kailey is in physician assistant school at Butler University. Karlee is 20 and works in Zionsville, Ind.
Alex Thurston (right) bats for Benton Central High School. He is a junior in 2019 and a verbal commit to Valparaiso (Ind.) University.
Matt Taylor (left) catches a ball at first base for Benton Central High School. He has moved on to the baseball team at Anderson University.
Benton Central players Payton Hall, Taylor Varnado, Alex Thurston, Matt Taylor and Alex Stout represent Hoosier North in the 2017 Colt Harry Bradway Classic in Lafayette, Ind.
The Vernon family in Key West, Fla., with spouses and children (from left): Matthew, Emily, Mary Katherine, Mason, Kailey, Karlee, Diann, Aubriel, Jon and Luke.
Another Benton Central High School baseball signs to play in college (from left): First row — Father David Stout, Benton Central Alex Stout and mother Stephanie Stout. Back row — Bethel College assistant Kiel Boynton, Bethel College head coach Seth Zartman and Benton Central head coach Jon Vernon. (Benton Central Photo)